The late eighteenth century witnessed a revival in the venerable Italian tradition of tarsia lignea,
the late medieval and Renaissance practice of decorating the walls of choir stalls, ecclesiastic meeting spaces and princely studioli
with sophisticated trompe l'œil
marquetry panels. The trend was perhaps most pronounced in the northern regions of Lombardy and Piedmont, where cabinetmakers including Giuseppe Maggiolini in Milan, Giovanni Maffezzoli in Cremona and the Ravelli in Vercelli produced commodes, tables, and other case furniture richly inlaid with fashionable neoclassical ornamental motifs or complex architectural scenes as observed in this pair.
These panels each depict a meticulously detailed architectural capriccio
, one an interior and the other an exterior view. The highly intricate overlapping perspectives of the interior scene are based on Piranesi's Carceri d'invenzione
('Imaginary Prisons') of 1750, especially plate XVI ('The Pier with Chains'), which features similar massive heavily rusticated arches, balustraded walkways and a hanging lantern. The complex inlay work skilfully employs a rich variety of different specimen woods with only a minimal use of engraved details to convey shading.
This pair relates closely to a series of marquetry panels by the Piedmontese intarsiatori
Ignazio Ravelli (1756-1836) and his son Luigi (1776-1858). Very little is known about the career of the Ravelli, although Ignazio is recorded as supplying works to King Vittorio Amedeo III of Savoy and was noted in the royal account books for his 'tarsie architettoniche
Two marquetry panels, one of a very similar prison interior and signed by Ignazio, and one after an engraving of the Vestibolo rotondo dei Musei Vaticani
, are in the Museo Arquéologico, Madrid, and two further panels of the same scenes, signed by Luigi, are in the Museo Leone, Vercelli (the Ravelli's birthplace). Case furniture attributed to Ignazio Ravelli includes two examples in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: a commodino
with the same prison-like interior as on one of the present panels, and a demilune commode whose central marquetry panels feature an arcaded bridge with battlements strikingly similar to that on the exterior view panel offered here.2 1
A. González-Palacios, Il Gusto dei Principi
, Milan, 1993, vol. I, pp. 363-64.
2 A. González-Palacios, vol. II, figs. 663-65, 667-68 and 670-71.